Telling the whole story: Elevating traditionally under-represented histories
Bringing underrepresented histories to light has become a top priority in historic preservation in recent years and in work to improve equity and build strong communities.
During OneCape 2023, Cape Cod Commission Historic Preservation specialist Sarah Korjeff convened a panel highlighting projects to elevate under-represented histories across Cape Cod and the broader New England region. The session's goal was to show how organizations on Cape Cod and beyond are facilitating a better understanding of our past and to inspire other groups to do the same.
"At the national level, the ways that we evaluate historic significance are being retooled to look beyond pristine historic buildings," said Korjeff, "A lot of times, the stories of underrepresented groups aren't associated with those pristine buildings; instead, their sites and monuments have been significantly altered over time."
States and regions are researching and writing cultural context statements for underrepresented groups, providing a framework for understanding the importance of people, places, and events and their history, which Korjeff says could benefit the Cape.
There are several local efforts to bring these stories to light through the birth of new museums, new exhibits at established museums, specialized tours, and research done by scholars and local historians. For example, traditionally built Wampanoag wetus are available to explore at several historical museums on Cape, including the Atwood House Museum, home of the Chatham Historical Society. The wetus draw attention to the region’s rich Native American history and cultural traditions. In Barnstable, the Zion Union Heritage Museum, and in Falmouth, the Cape Cod Cape Verdean Museum and Cultural Center, celebrate the African American and Cape Verdean populations on Cape Cod.
Overall, Korjeff is hoping to help grow these efforts through existing networks, such as the Cape Cod Museum Trail, and potential new partnerships between local historical organizations and researchers, to elevate essential stories and create a more complete picture of our region’s history.